Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jonathan Clatworthy’s Reply to Andrew Goddard

From the Revd. Jonathan Clatworthy at Modern Church:

Andrew Goddard has now provided a lengthy defence of the Anglican Covenant against the arguments in our advertisement of 29 October. At over 15,000 words it bears witness to Dr. Goddard’s commitment. It is not light bedtime reading, and a point by point reply would not be either.

Indeed, Andrew Goddard’s response is not light bedtime reading, nor light reading for any time of the day. The ad by Inclusive Church and Modern Church ran in the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper. To me, Jonathan’s reply stands alone quite well as a caution against the adoption of the Anglican Covenant, even for those who have not read Andrew Goddard’s response, which is titled “How and Why IC & MCU Mislead Us On the Anglican Covenant”. I disagree with Dr. Goddard that the ad is in any way misleading.

The text and its potential

Dr Goddard writes that ‘The IC/MCU statement... pays little or no attention to the text of the covenant itself’. We have in fact paid close attention; but rather than treating it as a good idea which just fell out of the sky, we judge it in the light of its potential. What matters is not how it describes itself, but how it could be used once it was in place. Furthermore we already have, in the controversies of the last decade or so, clear indications of how some groups intend to use it.

Persons in favor of the covenant repeatedly accuse those of us who question the need for a covenant for the Anglican Communion or oppose this specific covenant of not having read the document. We grow weary of the repetitions, because we have read the document, most of us several times, and the Draft Covenant reads no better on the second, third, or fourth perusal than on the first.

Discipline, subordination and punishment

The most obvious disagreement is whether provinces will be subordinated to the international authorities and threatened with punishment if they do not obey.

Goddard considers this a ‘highly implausible spin’. He does not explain why, but he does reply:

In fact, the Windsor Report’s stated aim was that a covenant ‘would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion’ (My emphasis) (para 118).

I confess that I burst out laughing when I read the quote from the Windsor Report. That the compilers of the report believed it is at all realistic that true loyalty and bonds of affection can be forced is ludicrous. In a ruthless dictatorship, one might be forced to make a pretense of loyalty and bonds of affection, but true loyalty and affection would tend to be squelched.

Jonathan continues:

What counts about the Covenant text is not whether it claims to be punitive, or even whether its framers intend it to be, but whether it can be used in a punitive manner, and the answer is clearly yes....If a province rejects ‘recommendations’, it can be excluded from the Covenant’s ‘enhanced’ relationship with other provinces and international committees. Given that this ‘enhanced’ relationship turns out to look very much like the relationship most provinces thought they already had with each other, the effect would be a demotion.

Back to the tiers, first tier, second tier. Will there be a third tier for the truly disobedient provinces, those nearly, but not quite beyond the pale?

Skipping over the sections on “Redefining Anglicanism” and “Would the Covenant make the Church more inward-looking?”, not because they are unimportant, but to keep my post from running long and still expecting that you will read them, I move on to Jonathan’s words on:

New dogmas

We wrote (in the ad):

Every time the Standing Committee upholds an objection it will thereby establish a new ruling, another doctrine Anglicans are expected to believe. Over time Anglicanism will become less inclusive and more dogmatic.

We already have an example. The 1998 Lambeth Conference declared homosexuality ‘incompatible with Scripture’ and the Windsor Report, bounced by the threats of schism, took this to mean that there is an Anglican ‘consensus’ on the matter. This ‘consensus’ was the basis on which it declared that the North American churches were out of order in consecrating a gay bishop and producing a same-sex blessing service. In other words, despite the fact that Lambeth conference resolutions have never had legislating powers, Windsor treated Resolution 1.10 as binding on Anglicanism - in effect, another constituent of Anglican belief to add the the Bible, the Creeds and the Thirty-Nine Articles.

A report came to be dogma. I refer you to the words of Bishop Martin Barahona, the retired primate of Central America, which have a permanent place on the sidebar of my blog.

“The Windsor Report,” he said. “It’s just a report. When did it become like The Bible. The Covenant. Why do we need another covenant? We have the Baptismal Covenant. We have the creeds. What else do we need?”

Not an Anglican Covenant; not this punitive Anglican covenant.


The bitter controversies of the last decade have indeed been most unfortunate. The presenting issues have been ethical and theological disagreement. They should be resolved by patient, informed ethical and theological dialogue, not by ecclesiastical power politics and threats of exclusion.

Do I hear an “Amen”?

(Jonathan Clatworthy’s reply is available from the No Anglican Covenant Web site here.)

June Butler

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